News & Views

Brands Must Learn to Edit

by Contagious Team
Tyler Brûlé, founder of Monocle and design and communication firm Winkreative, talks to Chloe Markowicz about how brands can become stronger publishers

This article originally appeared in Contagious X, Contagious' 10th anniversary edition. The issue is available to view online and as a free pdf download until 31 January.

What do brands need to do to get content right?

Brands need to take a deep breath first. We’re five years into this journey of companies becoming publishers and I think that many companies are still finding their own way, for a variety of reasons. Some waded in not realising how expensive it is to operate their own newsroom or their own feature desks. And you have a lot of companies who think, ‘Oh, we’ll just hire a bunch of writers. They’ll come into our company four times a year. They’ll dip their toe into the brand and then they’ll venture out again.’ Then they’ll be disappointed because they haven’t managed to capture the essence of the brand. You need to be living it day in, day out. We’re still in this process where a lot of companies don’t have it 100% right.

What are brands getting wrong when it comes to publishing?

The big issue is editing. A lot of companies have not come to grips with how to edit yet, what should be said and what needs to be hidden in the long grass. With the advent of social media and all of these free digital channels, that’s a major consideration. Because these channels are free, people think, ‘Well let’s use them as much as we can.’ They’re information buffets. All you can eat. Except in this case it’s sort of the reverse: all you can vomit out.

One of the big challenges for companies now, when you’re constantly on, when you have all these channels available to you and you think suddenly you’re in the content business, even though your business is making cars or producing soba noodles or whatever, is that there’s a certain demystification.

What do you mean by demystification?

Once upon a time you had advertising that enticed you through great photography and a wonderful television campaign, and you would find your way to that bottle, or that hotel, or whatever it was. But there were also so many other layers behind it that weren’t quite clear. For a great brand, 50% of it is in your mind. But suddenly when you have all of these channels available to you to communicate all the time, and you have your front-office manager who has to deliver a blog, and you have the head of housekeeping talking about how she and her team clean the rooms, and you have the CEO tweeting constantly about how they’re opening new locations, that demystifies the brand. Because you’re constantly on, it doesn’t leave any room for the consumer’s imagination. We tend to forget about that. We’ve moved into this area where everything has to be completely transparent and nothing can be opaque anymore. But who says? I would argue that with good branding a lot is residing in the head of the consumer.

How is creating content specifically for free digital channels hurting brands?

With free channels, you’re talking to people who may not have spending power. Companies like the fact that you have to spend 20 AUD ($17.50) to buy Monocle. It means that there’s a very good chance that consumers might buy a business-class ticket on your airline, or they might buy a pair of your trainers because they can deploy $20 a month to purchase something. As opposed to saying, ‘Yeah I can be on all these channels. They’re free for me, they’re free for the consumer.’ Those companies don’t really have a sense of what the potential purchase is there.

I think we’re already entering a settled-down period with publishing. People have recognised you don’t have to be on all these free channels. If you’re a brand and a whole bunch of new malls have opened up, do you need to be in every single one? Media channels are no different. You have to pick your battles. Companies think if a media channel is free, they might as well use it. They’re not thinking about the environment or the people who might use it.

What advice would you give to brands looking to move into publishing?

Invest in a good editor, that’s the most important thing. Don’t think that it can just be your CMO. Maybe your CMO is just used to working with traditional ad copy, or their background might be retail or CSR. There is an art to understanding what makes a good lead, what’s going to hook somebody and whether to craft your message in one page or in the standfirst. Don’t kid yourself that suddenly you can just vault anybody with a marketing background into an editor’s seat.